Mass of Christian Burial for Rachel Taylor

Published: April 30, 2016

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily during the funeral for his mother at St. Mary Church in Ponca City, Okla. on Saturday, April 30, 2016.

Bishop Taylor

How do you preach your mother's funeral — or for that matter, the funeral of any faithful Christian — without turning it into a Mass of canonization?

To be sure, my mom is a saint, especially as St. Paul understood the word as referring to all those who put their trust in Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior. All those who, while still being very human, not only belong to the family of believers but in fact make Jesus the very center of their lives.

And for my mother, faith and family went hand in hand, in two ways:

Well Mom, we have gathered here today to commend you to that Lord for whom you have longed in one way or another all 83 years of your life. You were united to him in his death the day of your baptism and began already then to live the life of the Kingdom of God in which you now share even more fully.

First, her natural family: My mother was raised in the faith by devout Catholic parents (her father was a convert from Judaism), went to Catholic school and got to know my dad at Catholic events.

They were one of the first couples in Fort Worth to receive formal preparation for the sacrament of marriage, something we now just take for granted, but which at the time was a new thing, and made their marriage the center of their lives, always aware that sacramental marriage involves three parties: the husband, the wife and Jesus who is the source of the love that makes them one.

That’s the difference between a civil marriage and a sacramental marriage. And from that point forward, their marriage became the fundamental sacrament around which they organized the entire rest of their lives. They were certainly "open to receiving children lovingly from God and raising them according to the law of Christ and his Church." Seven children in less than 10 years, I was born nine months and six days after their wedding.

And they didn't just teach us about the faith, they lived it and this life rooted in faith became our world as well as theirs, not just a list of beliefs disconnected from daily life but rather the center point out of which every other decision in their life was made.

What would Jesus do? What is God asking of us? When Jesus brought them to Ponca City 56 years ago with five kids six years old and younger, they didn't know practically anybody, but they trusted that the Lord who brought them here would help them manage and he did, big time.

They faced all the trials of raising children together and later all the trials of infirmity and old age, uniting their troubles to the cross of Jesus Christ and placing their confidence in the certainty of his victory over the power of sin and death. And thanks to their faith in us and their self-sacrificing love and at times unlimited patience, there is not a black sheep among us — pretty remarkable, especially in today’s world, not only because there are so many of us, but also because we are each so different one from the other, and yet so close and united.

I and all of my brothers and sisters owe them a debt we can never repay. Or which we will repay only by living ever more fully this gift of faith which we received through them. A faith rooted in self-sacrificing love modeled on that of Jesus. They formed a family in which faith and family go hand in hand.

Second, St. Mary Parish, which for the past six decades has also been our family in faith: It is striking to notice that even after living most of her life in such a non-Catholic town as Ponca City, almost all of Mom's close friends are members of St. Mary Parish. She has been an active member of the St. Francis Guild for more than 50 years and belonged to three bridge clubs made up of fellow parishioners.

Faith is lived in community and you ladies have been her lifelong companions. Unbeknownst to you, we Taylor children overheard you bridge club ladies voice, through the heating and air conditioning ductwork of our house, many opinions about our pastor and things going on in the parish, always couched, of course, in the most charitable of terms.

Also expressions of mutual support when a member was having trouble in their home or with their health or with their children, some of whom were our classmates. The faith we heard expressed was incarnate, applied to the realities of daily life. Even when the person spoken about didn't happen to be present.

I know you prayed for each other and once I became a priest, my mother was frequently having me celebrate Masses for you and your loved ones, especially in times of loss. And today is for our family once such time of loss. But it is also a time of gain. We have so much to be grateful for. "The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord!"

When I was in college my mother had a near-death experience following a medical test involving iodine to which we discovered she was deathly allergic. This was about the time that Raymond Moody published, "Life after Life," his famous book about near-death experiences.

She experienced a feeling of separation from her body, looking down from above on the doctor working on her. She said that just like in that book, she saw a bright light and experienced great peace, and even felt reluctant to return to her body when forced to do so, almost against her will. She probably didn’t want to have to face us kids again.

Ever since then she has always said that while she didn't relish the suffering involved in dying — and make no mistake about it, she did have an exceptionally long and difficult process of dying. I think she’s got most of her purgatory knocked out already. But she said she had no fear of death itself because she had already been there with the Lord briefly — and liked it.

Well Mom, we have gathered here today to commend you to that Lord for whom you have longed in one way or another all 83 years of your life. You were united to him in his death the day of your baptism and began already then to live the life of the Kingdom of God in which you now share even more fully.

We, your natural family and your family of faith will draw on the faith you fostered in us to support each other in this time of loss and we look forward to seeing you again one day in the not too distant future. "The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord!"